Sunday, March 23, 2014

Will work hard to seal my place in the World Cup, says India talented youngster Lalit Kumar Upadhyay

This piece was published in

One of the stars of the recently-held Hero Hockey India League, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay is now keen to build on that good run and put his best foot forward in the ongoing World Cup camp in New Delhi in a bid to seal a spot in the national team for the big-ticket event to be held in The Hague, Netherlands in May-June.

“The 2nd HIL was hugely benefiting for me in terms of gaining exposure playing against some of the big names of world hockey. I’m really chuffed to know that the selectors have taken note of my HIL showing and picked me in the national probables. I will strain every nerve not to let them down,” he says in an exclusive interview.

The 21-year-old Varanasi lad may have scored just one goal for debutants Kalinga Lancers in the 2nd HIL, but the manner in which he created scoring opportunities for his team -- array of passes to his team-mates, delightful and deceitful speed of him -- left nobody in doubt that he is a player who count. No doubt he is a long term material.

And the sprightly youngster attributes his decent HIL performance to Odisha franchise coach Terry Walsh, who is the also the national men’s team head coach.“Obviously, I have learnt a lot from Terry Walsh having spent a month for so with me during the HIL. He is a great motivator and often emphasizes on how to make the best use of one’s skills. Since he is familiar with my game, I’m sure it will stand me in good stead in the World Cup camp,” he observes.

This is not Lalit’s first tryst with the national team. The youngster made his international debut at the 2008 Eight Nations Tourney in Malaysia before the ‘K Jyotikumaran bribe-taking sting operation’ landed him in a soup for no fault of his.“To be honest, it was a tough phase for me. I wanted to shun hockey as it was being insinuated that I had greased the palms of people who matter to get myself picked in the national side. My mother kept urging me not to give up something I love the most (playing hockey) and today I owe her a lot for cajoling me to keep my chin up when the going got really difficult. I now just want to bury the past and look forward to the future with optimism,” he says with a tinge of emotion.

Lalit featured in the now-defunct World Series Hockey (WSH) for Bhopal Badshah. His performance in the WSH attracted encomiums from no less than Pakistan hockey legend Shahbaz Ahmed who famously said ‘Lalit plays like me’. “Getting a compliment from a legend like Shahbaz Ahmed makes you feel good, but I’m an extremely down-to-earth person and never got carried away with the praise and took it in my stride,” he puts things in perspective.

India are currently ranked eighth in the world and how does he assess his team’s chances at the 2014 World Cup? “It’s too early to talk about it as we still have more than two months for that. I never believe rankings really matter. Look how India nearly beat Germany twice in the Hockey World League Final in New Delhi or even a side like Argentina which stunned the Netherlands at the same event. It’s all about playing good hockey on any given day,” he puts forth his thoughts.

Lalit, who is on a scholarship contract with Air India, lavishes praise on his employers for backing him to the hilt. “I owe a lot to Air India. No praise can be high for them for the manner in which they kept supporting me all these years. Dhanraj bhai (Pillay) is my role model and I have learnt so much from him while playing for Air India; Sameer bhai (Dad), Arjun bhai (Halappa) have also contributed their bit in helping me grow as a player.

And the parting shot was about cornering glory for the Blueshirts. “I will work hard to seal a place in the final squad and hopefully play a big part for the country in The Hague.”

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